My name is Labeeb , and together with my wife Dawn, we will be embarking upon this adventure, to drive from Saudi Arabia back to the United Kingdom.
We are both Brits, our home is in Nottingham, and have lived and worked here in Saudi since 2008. My main type of work is related to Human Resources, whilst Dawn is a teacher, currently specialising in supporting students with required additional needs. When we first arrived in Saudi, we lived and worked in Jeddah, the west coast of Saudi, but we relocated to Riyadh in the summer of 2010 and have lived here since.
We knew that as expats here in Saudi, my job in HR was always going to be under threat, as the country wants to , quite naturally, ensure the local citizens are given opportunities ahead of expatriate workers, and HR is a field of work that was highlighted as a priority for “Saudisation”.
Having lived in the Middle East for almost 10 years, we felt that we didn’t really want to skip to another Gulf country. We’ve visited Bahrain several times, Qatar twice, Dubai three times, and Oman twice. Oman is a lovely place , so different to the others, seems far more historical and has a genuine feel of some history there. The people are quite laid back, and the whole country seems quite chilled out. However, opportunities for expats seems quite limited, but if an opportunity came up, I’m sure we’d both relish it. With regard the other places, they just seemed all a little superficial and artificial. Dubai is great to visit for a few days, but don’t think either of us would want to live there.
There was always going to come a day when the work here ended and we were going to have to return to the UK. Previously, we had spoken about the prospect of buying a VW camper Van ( Type 2 ) and embarking upon a European road trip, to take place over the spring / summer months as and when we were to return to Blighty. I did quite a lot of online research looking into buying a suitable Type 2 and even looked long and hard at the other VW models, including a T4. The intention was to buy one, do the tour, return to the UK and then sell it again – hopefully for not that less money than we paid!
So why drive home? Well, taking into account the return home, and then going through the process of buying a camper van and then selling it again, we though it would actually be an excellent opportunity to still carry out our European tour but we could do that by driving home and killing two birds with the proverbial one stone. That one stone has killed a lot of birds by now, certainly.
Ideally, we were looking to carry out our plan in March / April of 2018, provided that my job was still available. The system here in Saudi works on a ‘sponsorship’ system. My company sponsors me, and I in turn, sponsor my wife Dawn. Without me having a job, both of us would have to exit.
So, my company decided to terminate my contract on 30th September. We were expecting this due to the company going through a torrid financial meltdown and huge company restructuring taking place. Initially, we made plans to leave Saudi at the end of October and return home.
But, as we both back in Blighty in August enjoying our summer hols, and preparing our lovely house for us to live in once again, we discussed the prospect about driving home. The considerations where that we would be driving at the ‘wrong time of year’. Instead of hitting Europe in the spring and summer months, if we left Saudi in late October, we’d be arriving in Europe in November and travelling all the way through into December.
Nevertheless, we decided that the opportunity may not come around again to have such an adventure, so we decided that would still carry out the plan and drive home.
Essentially, the trip will be a drive home through the Middle East and then mainland Europe. This will be covered in more detail as the blog records more and more updates.
One of the hurdles presented is the Syria Situation. As you all know, the country has been literally torn apart by its civil war , resulting in no access from Saudi by road. Not that anyone would actually want to enter Syria at this moment in time, due to the large scale warfare witnessed by the world.
There were several alternative routes, and again, will cover this in the “where” section.
The rough plan is to leave Riyadh and drive north to Tabuk. Just this leg of the journey will probably be longest single driving period – around 12-14 hours and around 1,300kms. Saudi is a huge land mass. An overnight stay in Tabuk, and then slightly eastwards to Haql and the coastal road to the land border crossing with Jordan. Once into Jordan, we intend on visiting Petra, and then back southbound to Aqaba and the land border crossing into Israel at the Eilat crossing. The plan is then to put the car onto a ferry at the Haifa port , ship it to Athens.
We would probably fly from Tel Aviv ( Ben Gurion airport ) to Athens, as we don’t fancy sitting on a ferry for three days – the duration of the crossing from Haifa to Athens. We’d pick up the car from the ferry then broadly, the route would be as follows:
Athens through Greece > Albania > Montenegro > Croatia > Slovenia > Italy > Switzerland>Austria > Germany >Czech Republic>Germany (again) > Netherlands> Belgium > Luxembourg > France and then a ferry to the UK from ( probably ) Dunkirk arriving at Dover.
Another possible alternative route was to go through Iran, drive north and hit the border with Turkey, driving the full length of Turkey before reaching Greece. However, this presented a couple of problems.
We could have driven from Saudi to Kuwait > Iraq>Iran. I felt uneasy about entering into Iraq given the instability around at the moment, and we would have driven relatively close to Basra. In addition, the visa requirements for Iran just seemed unfeasible.
Firstly, we’d have needed a visa in advance. Not so much of an issue, as there is an Iranian Embassy here in Riyadh. However, as British citizens, we’d need to be accompanied at all times by an official tour guide. And we’d obviously have to pay a daily rate, as well as all meals and accommodation costs. After some thinking, we decided not to pursue this route and decided that Jordan – Israel – Greece was the simplest one.
One option to bypass Iraq was to drive to the UAE directly from Saudi and board a ferry to Iran from the port of Sharjah, arriving at Bandar Abbas. But again, due to the requirements of being accompanied at all times, this was dismissed.
From what I know, only three nationalities require this accompanied status , citizens from USA, Canada and the UK.
The provisional date for leaving Riyadh is 28th October. Driving from Riyadh to the Jordanian border is a two day trip. We’d be looking to arrive into Israel in late October and into Greece right at the start of November. The remainder of the trip would take us through November and we want to arrive at home in Nottingham just in time for Christmas!